Posts by mommy

10 Amazingly Enjoyable Things About Having Kids

To get this blog properly started, here is my article I wrote with my husband, published at The Federalist.

There has been a recent explosion in books and articles chronicling the supposedly overwhelming rigors of child-rearing, particularly for the educated middle-class professionals who write and read these articles.


While we might suspect that a lot of this is just the whine-brag as a literary genre—look how put-upon I am combining my successful career with my wonderful children—we’re also concerned that the young and childless might look at it all and conclude, as some do, that parenthood is a disaster best avoided.


That seemed to be the upshot of a perverse Mother’s Day ad last year in which young women were invited for a fake job interview. The “job” turned out to be motherhood, which was portrayed as a form of worker exploitation undreamt of by the most fervent Marxist.


Unfortunately, if you turn to pro-family conservatives, you often get much the same story, with parenthood cast as a personal sacrifice made for the greater good of humanity, while childless bliss is “a symptom of cultural decadence, in which modern comforts crowd out intergenerational obligations.” So if you have children, you’re doing it for the good of society, to ensure the demographic survival of the West.


Both sides agree that there is some ineffable personal value to be gained from parenthood, but the positive side is vague, while the negatives are vivid and specific. As the title of a recent book would have it, being a parent is “all joy and no fun.”


As working parents of two young boys, we can assure you that this is all wrong. If you’re not having fun, you’re not paying attention. Yes, taking care of children is a lot of work and a relentless responsibility, but as with any really difficult job, the rewards can be enormous.


To counteract all the gloom and doom, here are ten amazingly enjoyable things about having kids….

Read the rest at The Federalist.

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You Never Know, Until You Do

You Never Know, Until You Do

As a little kid in my house growing up, the birthday kid always picked out the birthday dinner. At first it was just meals at home, but as we got older, it meant a special dinner out. Since my oldest boy would be turning seven and since he seems to have been born a foodie, I thought it was time to restart the family tradition. He really seems to enjoy the pageantry of eating out, especially the strange notion that there are several options for what he can choose to eat. And I think getting a menu handed to him like he’s the big man who can read anything, might have something to do with it. But since he’s only been to a few different restaurants, I thought the adults should choose the first couple of places to open up the kids’ eating horizons. So I thought it would be fun to take us to the local Japanese hibachi grill where you all sit just inches away from a huge, searing hot griddle, the chef spins his knives, tosses the utensils and the food around, and even starts a few fires. Now that I type that, I really do have to wonder what I was thinking.

Anyway, there we all sat in front of the chef, my oldest son, Mr. Excitement/Mr. Caution, and my youngest son, Mr. Adventure/Mr. Danger, on either side of Grandma. The chef introduces himself and starts chatting about fires. The boys, not expecting what’s to come, are not entirely sure what the chef is saying in his thick accent. So when I tell the chef that we have a birthday boy with us, he turns and says something that I’m not sure any of us caught. Then he takes out a squirt bottle of oil and draws a birthday cake on the grill, draws on several candles, and then turns to said birthday boy and asks if he’s ready to blow out the candles. At this point, Mr. Excitement is becoming a bit shy and has scooted to the side of his chair closest to Daddy, when the chef decides that he must have said, “yes, let’s light up those candles.” And whoosh, the flames shot several feet into the air. We all instinctively back up in our chairs due to the intense heat, and Mr. Excitement jumps out of his chair and ducks for cover behind the adults. The only person who didn’t move at all was my youngest son, Mr. Adventure, sitting right next to me. He, not the birthday boy, clapped and giggled with complete glee. As the dinner went on, every time the chef would mention “fire,” the birthday boy would prepare to take cover, and the little brother eventually shouted out, “more fire,” with such enthusiasm that deep in my mind I started to worry. As we left the restaurant, we all said how much we enjoyed the meal, but I privately wondered if I missed the mark: Perhaps this was the right restaurant, but the wrong son? Should I have waited until they were older for this place? And most worrisome, did I ignite the internal flame of a little pyromaniac in my youngest son?

You know, as mothers, we often second guess ourselves. Did we do the right thing? Did the kids enjoy what we so carefully planned out for them? Should we have just saved the money and cooked dinner at home? You never know exactly what experience is really going to stick with them, and what activities will just form a general blur of their childhood. But every now and then, they let you know. Like this morning, when I came to the Lego table (used to be our kitchen table) and saw this construction.

Lego Hibachi Grill

Sure, the base was recognizable as the Millennium Falcon that the birthday boy built last week, but on top of it something new has grown. Flames, lot’s of flames have taken over. Flames of all sizes; cute curled little flames that once were plumes from the Lego knights’ helmets, medium flames with straight purpose, and big giant flames that licked up to the sky. And there, in front of all the flames was a single Lego figure in a little hat. When I asked him about it, I thought I was going to hear that it was him sitting down for his birthday dinner, and that would have been a great success in my book. But no, he told me that it was himself as the chef cooking dinner.

Yep, momma picked that one just right. Sometimes you never know how much a single event means to them, until you do.

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The Milk Zork

The Milk Zork

In the early days of mothering, when you are first getting to know your new bundle of joy, you have to learn to celebrate the little victories of communication. You have just entered Newborn Baby land and you don’t speak the language, there is no translation book published, and while a few of your fellow earthlings may know how to translate a body gesture here and there (baby arching its back means painful tummy gas), you are really on your own, tired and in a strange land with few ways to communicate. You suddenly realize that the real reason new parents end up constantly talking about the baby’s bodily functions is because that is THE major way to know if everything is going well or not. Does that which goes in, come out as planned? Is the plumbing working?

And just like all of us thrown into an immersion language course, those closest to the baby start to learn to read the body signs. The obvious signs are easy; the baby is tired if it is yawning and rubbing its eyes. But that’s like waiting for the yelling and vivid hand-gestures from that Italian asking you to move your scooter out of his way. It would be much better if you understood the polite request to scoot over instead of waiting so long. So you start to look for the more subtle body gestures—the slight puffiness to the baby’s eyelids, the turning away glance that tells you they’ve had enough, and the coos and whimpers that you’ll learn mean, “I’m a little hungry and would like some yummy milk now.” You’ll learn that each sound and each body movement might have meaning, or it might just be part of the baby’s experiments. And once you think you know which crying sound means “I’m hungry,” or “I’m tired,” or “I’m wet,” you’ll find out that the baby has advanced to a higher form of communication and it will be time to learn the newest language.

But one thing is constant. When you get it all just right, you get the most incredibly clear message that everything is just perfect. I called it the Milk Zork. I always felt like I had achieved a Mommy Touch-Down that required its own end-zone dance when I achieved the Milk Zork. Let me describe it to you. Everything has to be timed just right, and that requires close observation of the Newborn Baby language. The warm milk comes at just the right time, filling the tummy just so. And then the sleepy-eyed look of utter satisfaction comes over the baby’s face. Next comes the lazy pop off the nipple, the heavy, contented sigh, and the snuggling back into mommy’s arms. And then comes the completely happy smile. That, my readers, is a Milk Zork. The Milk Zork is easily understandable in any language and all dialects.

Just remember that the Milk Zork touch-down dance is always done silently and on tip-toe.

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Introducing… Mr. Excitement!

Introducing… Mr. Excitement!

When I started this blog, I decided not to use the actual first names of my children to compensate for the fact that I may share details of their lives that might potentially be embarrassing later in life. Not mortifyingly embarrassing, but the sort of thing that you might not want “out there” if you’re running for office. Or the kind of cute childhood story that your high school friends will constantly rib you about. So since the boys had no say in this, my writing adventure, I’ll be using nicknames for them. So let me introduce you to my first-born son, we call him Mr. Excitement. He gets excited about being excited. He loves getting everyone around him very excited, and he loves to create excitement. You would think that this trait would go hand-in-hand with risk-taking personality, but no, Mr. Excitement is quite cautious as well. Both seemingly contradictory parts of his temperament seem hard-wired and were noticeable from the very first moments we met him.

Newborn babies sleep a lot—a whole lot. They normally stay awake long enough to eat, eliminate, and take in a bit of the new chaotic world they’ve discovered before realizing that it is a bit too much and they need some sleep to process it all. Not Mr. Excitement. No. Mr. Excitement will fight going to sleep because the world is too exciting. Mr. Excitement thinks that this new world is SO fascinating as he’s given a tour of the maternity ward hallway in his little wheeled bassinette, that his wide-open, observant eyes start earning him comments from the nurses, “wow, look at how attentive he is, checking out this new world.” From day one he was bound and determined to take in every last drop of the world around him, to heck with sleep. I don’t even remember how long he stayed awake that first time just after he was born—it seems like it must have been hours. Feeding him made him too excited to sleep. Sucking on a pinky finger was exhilarating—couldn’t possibly go to sleep after that. Doing bodily things is exciting in a bad way and makes him cry. His doctor assured us fast potty-training in the future—here’s to always looking at the bright side of life! Less than half a day old, Mommy was looking for creative ways to quiet and calm him. Quietly swaying him in a darkened bathroom with the shower running helped, a little.

And now, as a seven-year-old, he’s just as excitable as ever, and just as hard to get to sleep. A nice, warm bath is thrilling. Calm bedtime stories are stimulating. A darkened calm room, painted in soothing, calming colors, with no toys as visual distractions, and a little background white noise still apparently spurs his brain into action. And the very last thing that happens before Mr. Excitement finally hits a wall and collapses into deep sleep is a rapid-fire recap of the day peppered with interesting, often profound questions. And seemingly because he knows “the wall” is about to be hit, he rattles off this bedtime download as fast as possible, like Martin Scorsese after one too many espressos. We’ve tried all sorts of relaxing techniques to humorous effect—gentle massage causes heaps of giggles. Soothing music brings about energetic singing performances.

But the reality is that this is just part of who he is and trying to undo his excitement is a futile act. So while he may always be one of those people that has a really hard time unwinding before going to bed, his excitement about everything else in his life is positively infectious. It is his excitement that drives him to take his wooden train tracks and build a whole network of lines from the living room, through the dining room and kitchen and out into the front hallway with multiple branch lines. That particular train setup made vacuuming difficult for nearly a month. Then there was the time we went shopping at the toy store when he was three. We were there for what seemed like hours, not because he made a fuss about wanting a specific toy, but because he was fascinated with all the things in the shop—we couldn’t leave until he carefully did a full inventory of every item the store had for sale. Each item was fully inspected and politely put back on the shelf—many other parents asked me how I managed to keep him from begging for toys. He wasn’t interested in anything that day but thoroughly checking out their stock of toys.

Quite possibly the thing we most love about his excitement is how much he loves learning. Once, at the dinner table when he was about 3 or 4, he became uncharacteristically quiet—normally he gabbers all through the meal. Puzzled, I asked him what he was thinking. And after a pause, his big eyes looked up at me and he said, “I really LOVE counting, it makes me happy.” Ah, moments like that are parental gold. In my head I was doing cartwheels and putting on a ticker-tape parade, but outwardly I gently tilted my head and said, “yup, counting is SO much fun…just wait until you start doing MATH!” And the big eyes looked back at me with newfound excitement!

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Introducing…. Mr. Adventure!

Introducing…. Mr. Adventure!

As every parent will tell you, each child is about as different from the next as possible. So after a couple of years with Mr. Excitement in our lives (see previous post), we wondered what baby boy number two would be like. While still pregnant, as soon as I started feeling the baby move, I knew there was someone radically different in there this time. I would classify my first pregnancy’s baby movement as normal, lots of slow rolling and turning with occasional bouts of intense activity, but generally fairly calm. Not this time! Suddenly it felt like I was growing a three-ring circus with a couple of high-wire acts and a whole troupe of clowns in there. The rolling, kicking, and jumping jacks were quite the sight for passers-by. And the biggest of all rolls came right before he was born—my abdomen had the normal straight-forward watermelon shape at 39 weeks when all of a sudden a massive full-body roll happened and suddenly my straight-forward watermelon became a side-to-side watermelon. At 39 weeks and over 8 pounds, there just isn’t the room in there to make a full turn, but full turn he did. When the doctor came in, I mentioned what had just happened. You could plainly see that my tummy now went side to side. The doctor said, “well, I don’t know how he did that, but thankfully we were already going to do a c-section!” Mr. Adventure, as we now call him, had somehow wedged himself sideways inside of me. A normal c-section involves opening you up and popping the baby out—NOT this time. He was completely stuck. Finally the anesthesiologist offered to help by pushing from the top side while the doctor pulled from below. This wasn’t the first of his life of crazy adventures.

Are you familiar with the infant car seats with the handle so you can carry it to and from the car, snapping it into a base that stays in the car? These things have a base with a tiny bit of a curve to it, so you can rock it an inch forward and backward when it is not in its base. Some babies use these kinds of car seats almost until they’re a year old. Most three-month olds couldn’t get it rocking—Mr. Adventure not only got it rocking, but launched himself right out of the seat. At only a few months old! Then there was his first words—uttered when we turned our backs for just a second and he climbed to the top of the jungle-gym’s ladder and said, “I can’t get down.” At two, he and big brother were playing in the bed of the pickup truck with several adults around. When it was time to put them back on the ground we put the tail-gate down, grabbed big brother and set him on the ground. Before anyone could stop him, Mr. Adventure took a flying leap off the tailgate screaming, “Airborne!” He was shorter than the height of the tailgate. He has uttered the words, “this is dangerous” with great glee. And to this day, there is not a chair he can’t fall off of. It is a regular dinnertime occurrence that Mr. Adventure will be in his chair sitting next to me munching away and the next moment he’s inexplicably down on the floor. We call that “reckless sitting” and it happens all the time.

He chipped one of his front teeth walking across the room at his grandparents’ house, but other than that we’ve come away with surprisingly few injured doctor visits, but I’m sure that is coming. He’s not yet five! We go through a lot of Band-Aids. Once, he came home from his grandparents’ house with his entire head wrapped in gauze. The second I saw him, Grandma said, “it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks.” In fact, it was just a garden variety bump on the head, but have you ever tried to put an adhesive band-aid in someone’s hair—she did the right thing for the child that loves earning his band-aids—she wrapped is whole head in gauze. In preparation of the future, we’ve taken out a separate accident insurance plan.

When you deal with that much adventure every day, you really learn not to sweat the small stuff. It isn’t that I don’t pay attention to him when he falls off a chair or tumbles out of a wagon, I just don’t fuss over it. But sometimes that gets me into trouble with the other mommies out there—especially those with just little girls. We were once at one of those water fountains where the water randomly shoots up from the sidewalk. Both boys were busy playing and I was watching from about 20 feet away. A new mother was very nearby the boys with her little girl who was a new walker and was eager to try taking on a curb—what excitement. All the little girl wanted to do was go up and down, down and up, over and over again. The mother kept hovering, making sure all was well when Mr. Adventure came running across the wet sidewalk, slipped on his heels, and completely wiped out. It was spectacular—a good slide, complete spread eagle airtime, and splat on his back, with a good conk on his head for good measure. Suddenly everyone froze to see what would happen. My mother was sitting with me and she jumped up to run to him, I grabbed her arm and said, “wait to see how he reacts.” Even cautious big brother stood still, stunned at the spectacular fall. What did Mr. Adventure do? He sat up, rubbed his head, said, “ouch” to his brother and took off again. There’s a mommy-lesson I learned early on—once they start moving, there is no way you could ever catch every tumble, nor should you. And the last thing you should do is to fuss over something that a kid doesn’t fuss over. Perhaps I should call it Mommy-Duck Parenting; let Mr. Adventure do his thing and act completely calm on the surface, but underneath be frantically paddling wondering if now is the time for the next trip to the ER.

But what’s really interesting is that while big brother’s Mr. Excitement traits are paired with his cautious nature, Mr. Adventure’s devil-may-care approach to the world is paired with stubborn streak the likes of which can’t even be matched by me or my husband, though both of us are often said to be as stubborn as mules. Right now this means that we can’t leave the house unless he has the correct socks on, or the rest of his dinner can’t be eaten unless his vegetables are put in the exact right spot on his plate, or he couldn’t possibly go to sleep unless his pillow is set just so.

My solace comes from knowing that as an adult, he’ll be perfect at packing his own parachute, each and every time.

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